As emotional temperatures continue to rise over legislation that would ban semiautomatic assault weapons, state Senate staff members said Wednesday that they have tightened security for committee hearings and floor sessions since several members of the upper house received threatening letters and phone calls.
Access to the Senate floor will be restricted today when the full Senate is scheduled to consider the Senate’s version of a bill that would outlaw the sale or possession of a wide variety of military-style semiautomatics, said Tony Beard, Senate sergeant at arms.
At a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, Senate staff members inspected briefcases of spectators and witnesses, blocked doors normally used by the public, and allowed entry into the room through only one door, which was equipped with a metal detector.
One recipient of a threat was Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach), who voted Monday in committee for a bill to ban the weapons. An anonymous letter writer threatened to kill her if she supported the bill, she said.
Bergeson declined to quote from the letter but said the writer threatened to kill her and “blow up my house” if she voted to ban the guns. Bergeson said she forwarded the letter, which was received at her Capitol office, to the state Justice Department.
At least one other lawmaker, Sen. Ruben Ayala (D-Chino), has reported receiving a similar threat. Another, Sen. John Doolittle (R-Rocklin), a staunch defender of gun owners’ rights, has received what law enforcement authorities regarded as a threatening letter from an apparent supporter of gun control, a Doolittle spokesman said.
Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), author of a bill to outlaw military assault weapons, has received “crank calls” on the gun control issue, according to Beard.
“We’re taking precautions because this is an issue that people react emotionally to, and we’re acting at the direction of the Rules Committee,” Beard said.
Bergeson blamed the National Rifle Assn., which opposes the proposed ban, for using “intimidating tactics” that might have prompted the letter writer to threaten her life.
But Pam Pryor, a spokeswoman for the NRA, denied that the organization had done anything to trigger the death threats.